NFL damaging its own product with replacement officials

Shannon Eastin, first woman NFL official, is among the replacements. (AP photo)

Shannon Eastin, from MEAC and first woman NFL official, is among replacements (AP photo)

For as much as the NFL is an image-conscious league, there is one unfortunate truth about its mind-numbing and protracted labor talks with game officials: The league isn’t in any hurry. There is no financial hit. The TV deals are safe, and no team is going to sell one less ticket or replica jersey if a replacement referee – whose resume highlights just may include the Lingerie Football League – happens to blow a call or refers to Atlanta as “Arizona.”

There is no reason to hide from any of that because even NFL vice president Ray Anderson, a former Falcons executive, shoved that reality up front in a phone conversation Friday: “We’ve offered raises of 5 to 11 percent. Just because the owners can afford to pay more doesn’t mean you do it. You’ve never paid for an NFL ticket to watch somebody officiate a game. Nobody has ever paid to watch me be the league supervisor for a game.”

He is right, of course. The problem is that the NFL season begins in less than three weeks, and there has been disturbing foreshadowing that suggests the referees may be the “entertainment.”

Two weeks into the exhibition season, we’ve seen a New York Giants punt returner called for holding (now that’s talent); a punt ruled a touchback even though it was clearly downed on the 4-yard line; a phantom facemask penalty against the Falcons’ Jonathan Babineaux (the official was the play); Atlanta being referred to as “Arizona” by a referee multiple times; a referee calling out the wrong winner of the coin flip before the Hall of Fame game; players witnessing debates between officials while they sort through confusion.

There almost certainly has been more. But that’s enough to paint a picture.

Most Falcons players wouldn’t bite on officiating questions, fearing they would be fined. But cornerback Dunta Robinson said after Thursday’s game, “I’m trying to take the good out of it and say: It’s preseason for them also. Some calls didn’t look like fouls to me. I think we got flagged just for playing hard. So Ed Hochuli: Get it right man. Come on back. We need you.” (Hochuli is a long-time respected official.)

Anderson, a point man for the league in talks with officials, has witnessed some mishaps in person, and whatever he has missed he has heard about later. But he’s not fazed. He said “there have been no more mistakes in the preseason” than there would be with regular officials, adding, “They’re just being highlighted because of the situation.”

Anderson said, “At this point, it’s very likely” replacement officials will start the regular season. (One Falcon said he was told to expect three games with replacements.)

“By the time the season starts, this will be a very credible group of officials,” Anderson said. “We’re frankly very comfortable.”

This is beyond silly. It’s irresponsible. It damages the product. Officials mistakes can determine game outcomes. Outcomes determine standings, playoff teams and seeding. We haven’t even addressed the potential of safety issues related to a poorly officiated game (rules are meant to protect players).

These replacement officials aren’t even as good as the ones who worked in 20o1. At least those were from BCS conferences. Most of these are from smaller conferences and the Arena League. Referee Craig Ochoa worked in the Lingerie Football League. Shannon Eastin, the first woman official, is from the MEAC.

The NFL is a $9.3 billion industry. It’s disingenuous enough when owners plead poverty and cut the pay of office staff during CBA talks, when network paychecks are hanging in the balance. But the difference between the two sides in these negotiations is relative change between the couch cushions.

The sides are roughly $2.2 million apart for the 2012 season and $16.5 million over five years. That’s a lot for us peasants. But let’s break it down. The $2.2 million equates to $65,750 per team. The $16.5 million over five years equates to $103,124 per team per year — or $6,445.31 per game. That’s roughly the cost of 60 game tickets, or the low end of a Georgia Dome suite for one game ($6,200-$14,000).

“So all we have to do is ask Arthur Blank to put another $100,000 in the pot with the other teams because he can afford it?” Anderson said. “Owners don’t do business that way. Owners will pay employees commensurate to their value.”

The message being: The NFL isn’t placing a high value on the officials.

They had better hope the right parties are providing the entertainment when the season starts.

By Jeff Schultz

109 comments Add your comment


August 17th, 2012
5:22 pm


August 17th, 2012
5:44 pm

Slow day between first and second..everyone’s at happy hr except myself and mmgtfan


August 17th, 2012
5:47 pm

Well said. I was there last night. The two that stood out were the Babineaux facemask and the roughing the QB call on Jerry. Didn’t see how that was roughing. One other point I haven’t seen brought up is that the Cincinatti QB seemed to have forever to throw the TD to Green over Samuel. Not sure we can put that on all on Asante. I’ve been to both games. They are supposedly showing the clips that the ref is viewing on the big screen during challenges. All I’ve seen on any of the reviews are two diffferent views that are not great angles. Seems like you get many more on TV. Not sure if the ref is just stupid and not looking at the right angles or if there are only a couple available during preseason.

Go Falcons!!! I thought they looked OK last night. Cincinatti is probably a pretty good team. Turner looks slow. Not sure he will not be cut.

Delbert D.

August 17th, 2012
5:47 pm

Change the subject. Boring.


August 17th, 2012
5:51 pm

I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again… It is like running a $1 billion dollar Corporation like a Church’s Chicken franchise! the National Football League is stealing your money!


August 17th, 2012
6:04 pm

Jeff…NFL officials also make horrendous calls, huddle together almost every other play to decide what was called, miss calls, get confused sometimes on the mike, etc. Plus in the NFL referees could call a foul on almost every play but they don’t…I myself don’t get flummoxed about these replacement guys and gal. The regulars will be back soon and then check the TV and see what gaffes the so-called experts commit.


August 17th, 2012
6:05 pm

yea! it’s quittin’ time.


August 17th, 2012
6:08 pm

Like I said last night Jeff, these refs are garbage….smh

briley parkway

August 17th, 2012
6:26 pm

Yeah they’re bad. But not really much worse than the regular guys who are pretty pitiful themselves.


August 17th, 2012
6:33 pm

Give ‘em a break! In half a season or so, they’ll get to the point where they’re just as bad as the regular officials.


August 17th, 2012
6:37 pm

By not paying the refs, it seems as though the mighty NFL is cutting off it’s nose to spite it’s face. Pay them and move on. Jeff’s title says it all. The overall product will be damaged and this is a relatively small price to pay to keep the game moving forward.

Heavyweight Champion of the Earl

August 17th, 2012
7:03 pm

Please bring back the “real officials” don’t give the Failcants anymore excuses for losing games.

"Chef" Tim Dix

August 17th, 2012
7:06 pm

Forget safety and legal play for a sec and consider they control the clock. Scares Vegas to death.


August 17th, 2012
7:13 pm

Slow down, Schultzie, it’s preason. We don’t care (yet).9


August 17th, 2012
7:15 pm


August 17th, 2012
7:19 pm

The NFL was much better when it was a game and not a product…

I agree with Howard...

August 17th, 2012
7:21 pm

…how many “looonnngggg huddles” have we seen during “real” games where the refs confer about something that the talking heads have already said what should, and usually does, happen. Plus. those “real” refs make boneheaded calls, too, even the wrong call of a coin flip, Ed Hochuli ruling things over that affected the outcome of a game, etc… as others have said, it just ain’t that big of deal if these current replacements blow calls – it’s not like it hasn’t happened before-.

And, the 13 yard penalty mark off last night was funny, especially Wes Durham’s call on that…

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

August 17th, 2012
7:31 pm


Hugh Jass

August 17th, 2012
7:45 pm

Dumb article. These guys get paid a 6-figure salary for a part-time job. Sounds good to me and anyone else who considers we are in a recession. I am thrilled that the NFL is standing up to the union and telling them they are already overpaid.

Twinkle Toes Turner

August 17th, 2012
7:49 pm

Ive said it for 3 years- turner is the most overrated RB in the entire league. Burner is the most ridiculous nickname. He’s like watching molasses hit a hole. The softest big running back I’ve seen in a long time


August 17th, 2012
8:00 pm

Everybody wants a piece of pie.


August 17th, 2012
8:09 pm

Ask state employees how long it has been since the vast majority received a pay raise of 3%, about 10 plus years and about 5 years at 0%. The refs should take an offer of 5-11% pay raise. Do they impact lives as much as teachers who receive NO pay raises and continuously pay increased health care costs?!


August 17th, 2012
8:43 pm

Well, at least us TV viewers get plenty of time for bathroom breaks now. If you leave the couch for 5 minutes right after a flag gets thrown, they’ll be deciding on the call when you get back. There ain’t no excuse for dribbling or wet zippers now.

100% Customer Satisfaction

August 17th, 2012
8:43 pm

Najeh Davenpoop

August 17th, 2012
8:53 pm

The real refs should hope this continues into the season, because it is going to really boost their bargaining position.


August 17th, 2012
9:00 pm

I am so sick of the media attacking the refs. Can someone please tell me the last time we heard how good the refs were. Give them some time and the old refs will not be missed at all. Sorry, I do not feel sorry for a part time employee who makes 6 figures. These guy should be full time employees.


August 17th, 2012
9:07 pm

The NFL officials don’t want to be full time employees, they don’t want 3 additional crews put on to give the current officials time off during the season, they also don’t want to have the under-performing officials pulled and replaced during the season even though they are rated ar poor.

In other words, what the current NFL officials want is more pay with no accountability and the chance to be fired/replaced for poor performance.

Mike Franklin

August 17th, 2012
9:20 pm

In this economy… and with the league already screwing its fan base with that sorry-ass NFL Network, this ref strike is just sauce for the cooked goose.

Thank gawd for the SEC.


August 17th, 2012
9:36 pm

BTW-I love how Shultz or editor (although in the end it is a Shultz article) show the only woman as the example in an article about bad replacement refs. Only about 30 other refs he could have used. What a coincidence. Nice job!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

August 17th, 2012
9:44 pm

Saints, Bucs and Panthers look good tonight :)


August 17th, 2012
9:55 pm

Haven’t seen an NFL game in my lifetime that someone was not complaining about refs. Give it a rest. These guys are no worse than the regular officials and have to learn the NFL rules and interpretations. Give them another 4 weeks like the players get to work out the kinks and nerves, then make the assessment. Would hate to have someone point out every mistake in one of these blogs everyday — how would that turn out?


August 17th, 2012
10:09 pm

They should worry about lawsuits by placing players in more dangerous conditions than necessary with these bush league refs.

Ken Stallings

August 17th, 2012
10:12 pm

The NFL is nickle and diming the umpires on this one. I like the idea of the extra crews, and even about full time officials, but then the pay and benefit scales the umpires are asking for are very reasonable and affordable. It is a silly stance by the owners of the league.


August 17th, 2012
10:35 pm

Credability, our ability to trust the referees, is at stake. NFL officials are experienced and have been required to go through extensive training. Yes they will miss some calls but they get it correct almost all the time. I do not trust rookie officials that do not even have the experience of big time college football. The NFL is headed for some major disasters with the fill-ins. Why risk it over a small amount of money.


August 17th, 2012
10:36 pm

Mark- Exactly. I seem to remember the refs actually screwing up a coin toss a few years ago. Remember that instant replay was bought in because the refs were doing such a bad job. The media gets a thrill out of siding against ownership.

Dixie Red Coat Band

August 17th, 2012
11:09 pm

Not really people will watch/pay anything for boring nfl.

Dixie Red Coat Band

August 17th, 2012
11:15 pm

Have you people noticed that there isn’t one second of silence at the games anymore. Noise all the time for you people…

Dixie Redcoat band

August 17th, 2012
11:21 pm

Haven’t you people noticed that pa guys now do the ..”he scoooooores”.
The Big House doesn’t do this…yet?

Just Sayin'

August 17th, 2012
11:26 pm

eerily similar article in timing and content to this Ashley Fox article published several hours earlier on ESPN.


August 17th, 2012
11:36 pm

Get the real guys back. These things never go right.


August 18th, 2012
12:03 am

Geeezzz… the money, and get the “real” officials in there. Enough of these “scabs”!!!!!!!!

Chef Boyardee

August 18th, 2012
12:20 am

Why would ANYBODY pay money to watch a pre-season football game? These games are barely distiguishable from a free scrimmage. I noticed that many fans came dressed in red as empty seats. If everyone dressed that way, maybe the players would get the message and be willing to play for real.

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August 18th, 2012
4:15 am

The NFL is all about the money. Fans want wins, but the owners are in it for the money. Owners would prefer a 5-11 money making team to a 11-5 money losing team. It has taken me quite a while to really get the feel of how all this works, but we fans are really kinda crazy to get all revved up about a team’s success on the field when the owners are revved primarily by the bottom line. $7 beers, $5 pretzels, etc…we really are just customers who value one thing while owners value another. The way Rankin Smith ran the Falcons is a perfect example…he had a captive audience for years (befoe Panthers, Titans, Jaguars, etc,, so why worry about winning.

J Moore

August 18th, 2012
7:00 am

No don’t pay these buffon s any more money. All unions must be dissolved if this country is ever to recover! Book it Dano.

Steak is good with Bacon

August 18th, 2012
7:07 am

Well so the refs are umps mess up after all it is pre-season ain’t it…sorta like Fans here callin for Matt Ryan be cut are traded for Mr I eat Pit bulldogs n train to fight..sorry Vick is hurtin and he never see a superbowl….Maybe vick get diaherra some day…Now lets worry about is this goin be a stinky year will Ryan finally shake his bad runs(excuse pun there) lead us to superbowl are will we fart up n be 7-9 this season n Home…Its coach smith break out if he fails his Job on Line too!


August 18th, 2012
7:32 am

Goodell is horrible. I hate him so much when my football wouldn’t hold air anymore I bought a used one on eBay cause I don’t want his name on it.


August 18th, 2012
8:31 am

Here is an example of where we can instantly improve the economic situation of 100 or more Americans. The NFL should go ahead and replace these officials with the college level guys doing the job now. Most of these current NFL officials have other jobs anyway or are old enough to retire. The new guys would work out the kinks by mid year anyway and after all, it’s only a football game. This would allow a 100 or more guys/gals to move up into the college ranks and make more money and would then provide 100 or more new job openings at the High School ranks. In other words a positive economic impact will roll down hill and help the little guy.

Much like the air traffic controllers, I think we would learn very quickly that no one is irreplacable and the economic impact would be very positive for several 100 people that could probably really benefit from making more money or just having a job.

Marvin Mangrum

August 18th, 2012
8:44 am

In a way, you are right, but mostly you are completely wrong. If you are trying to say, “golly I hope they will be almost as good as the regular refs”, that in itself is sad. The regular refs are pretty sorry themselves, so it reallyis just a manner of different degrees of sorry. To me, it is almost always obvious that the refs are for one team or the other, almost always. I reffed for 10 years, these guys have done so too, and I understand that the players are making up to a mil a game but that in no way has anything to do or say what the refs are making. If making $2 k a week aint enuf, quit! 20 years ago I would have done it for free, just for what it cost to get there and do it. Its time for some new crooks. At least I wont know before they walk out which ones are crooks. If you watch, if you really watch its clear to see the crooks.